NONTOBEKO AISHA MKHWANAZI
IN a heart-breaking turn of events, the Habibiya Superette and its surrounding area have succumbed to flames. The bustling community hub which was also a place of dawah, situated at the corner of Hood and Johnson Road in Rylands, Cape Town, now bears the weight of devastation.
The fire, which erupted in the early hours of January, 29, has not only claimed the beloved local superette and Arief’s Unisex Barber Shop but has also left 20 residents homeless.
The City of Cape Town’s Fire and Rescue Service Spokesperson, Jermaine Carelse, confirmed that the early morning blaze destroyed the convenience store and damaged two adjacent shops at the corner of busy intersection. She added that it took about an hour and a half to extinguish the fire, and the cause remains unclear at this stage.
The Habibiya Superette, a cornerstone of the community, served as more than just a convenience store; it was a meeting place, a source of daily essentials, and a symbol of unity for the residents in Rylands.
For the 20 residents, who are migrants from Malawi, the partitioned 6-room house attached to the store was their home, a place of refuge after labouring hard throughout the day for meagre earnings to support their families.
Now faced with homelessness, these 20 individuals are grappling with the immediate aftermath of this horrific incident, as they seek temporary shelter and support from friends, family, and the public at large.
According to Idriss Salman, one of the tenants, he was awakened by heavy smoke, a collapsing ceiling, and screams warning people about the fire.
‘Around 2:00am, when the electricity came back after load shedding, I woke up to a house on fire and loud noises outside our room. I quickly alerted my wife and brother, with whom I stay. We rushed to help wake up the other neighbours and attempted in vain to extinguish the fire. Fortunately, no one was injured, but most of our belongings were burnt to ashes,’ said Salman.
Salman added that while they were trying to grapple with the devastation, the landlord ordered them to take what was left of their belongs and move out of his premises.
‘As tenants we have nowhere to go. We have no money and no food. Most of our belongings, including our documentation, is in ashes as all of us are foreign nationals from Malawi. Among us are women and children who also have to endure the pain of being homeless, not only because what they knew as home is burnt down but also because the landlord won’t even allow them to seek refuge in the remnants of the building,’ said Salman.
Alisha Sebowa, who is also a tenant and a mother of a six-month-old baby, says she does not know what to do.
‘As a single mother, who works as a domestic worker, it took me months of saving and hard work to be able to even buy my child’s various supplies in order to cater for his needs. With the fire burning everything, I don’t know what my child will wear let alone eat. I too do not know where my next meal will come from or where I will even stay,’ says Sebowa.
In their individual capacities, community members have displayed a high level of ubuntu by rallying behind those affected, donating blankets and food.
Sebowa also appeals to the community to further lend a helping hand.
In an interview with Muslim Views the owner of Habibiya Superette, Mohammed Wajad Ali, who left the shop two weeks ago to visit his family in Bangladesh after 10 years, the shop has been instrumental not only to the Rylands community but to spreading the message of Islam in various parts of South Africa and Bangladesh.
‘Ten years ago, I arrived in South Africa with a clear vision. Determined to transform not only my family’s fate but also uplift my community, I committed to working tirelessly. From 7:00am to 11:00pm every day, I laboured with unwavering dedication. My sole focus was on realising my dream. The hard-earned income, no matter how humble, was destined to make a difference. During this journey, my priority was to provide for my wife and children. Additionally, I founded an organisation named Worldwide Discovery of Deen (WWDD). This initiative aimed to establish madrassahs, implement feeding schemes in Bangladesh, and spearhead dawah initiatives across various parts of South Africa,’ said Ali.
He also said the recent devastation of his shop has left him not only with nothing but also with a heavy heart.
‘The impact reaches beyond my personal loss; the community, relying on the feeding scheme, now faces the harsh reality of hunger.’
Ali, with resilience in his voice, lamented, ‘This setback won’t deter me. With your help, I am determined to rebuild and continue the mission of providing for those in need.’
He further appealed to the community to assist him in rebuilding not only a business premises but also a community hub.
Zakir Hoshain, the manager of Habibiya Superette, also implored the community to lend a hand in their rebuilding efforts.
‘We’ve lost everything, and all we’re seeking from the community is a space to either erect a container or a temporary structure. Our income holds significant value for our people; please assist us in helping them. Join us in bringing hope and change to the lives of numerous Muslim children in Bangladesh who face difficulties attending madrassah due to the distance they have to travel.’
At the time of publication, the landlord could not be reached for comment.
As one stands in front of what was once a vibrant corner the remnants echo a tale of community fragility, but also hope for the power of aid to prevail in such a crisis.